It was a close race, but I think that politics was my first obsession, just beating out baseball. I have clear memories of election night for each of the presidential election years since 1968, which probably says more about the way my mind works than anything else.
1968. I was 8 years old, oldest son in a family that prided itself on its hatred of Richard Nixon, going way back to the "Pink Lady" accusations of his first Congressional race. I suspect that the famous 1962 "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more" press conference was one of the highlights of my family's political lives. So in 1968 there was no doubt that we were a Hubert Humphrey family. I remember that we got our first cat on Election Day 1968, and of course we named him "Hubert." I remember that my parents let me stay up way past my bedtime, and that when I went to bed - it must have been around 11 p.m. - Humphrey was actually clinging to a slight lead. It probably seems amazing to young people today that California was once a solid "red" state (at least in presidential elections), and Nixon's victory in California was what put him over the top. It would send a shiver down my spine, except for the fact that ultimately, the story had a happy ending.
1972. Several memories of this election year. The Democratic nomination was still up for grabs when the candidates came to California for the June Primary Election, and it was around that time that my family began to gravitate towards George McGovern. I remember a Friday afternoon cocktail party (a staple of those days) where everyone agreed that McGovern was the man. I also remember getting a hard time from some of my sixth grade classmates when I proudly announced that "we" were for McGovern.
That summer was one of the hottest on record in Sacramento. When you look in The Sacramento Bee's daily weather records for mid-July, to this day the highs of mid-July 1972 stand as the highest ever. As it turned out, that week we were up at my grandmother's house in Sutter, which differed from Sacramento in that it never cooled down at night, because the fabled Delta Breezes didn't make their way that far up North. The low temp the night that George McGovern delivered his acceptance speech was 93, and it was quite unpleasant in the house, since my grandma did not have central air conditioning.
That fall, my middle school (known at the time as an "intermediate school") held a mock election, and that was around the time I met Craig, who remains to this day my longest and closest friend. We had the temerity to hold up a hand-made "McGovern for President" sign at the election rally, for which we were roundly booed. Nixon won the election by several hundred votes, but of course we had the last laugh. That election night was a desultory affair in our house, as the scope of the landslide became clear. What I remember about that night is that my mom was sick, so I accompanied my dad to their Tuesday night bowling league, where I was allowed to bowl in her place. That was definitely the highlight of the evening.
1976. After the debacle of 1972, we had vowed that we were going to get really involved in the 1976 election, but those plans were set aside because of our lack of enthusiasm for Jimmy Carter. My parents voted for him and I was "rooting" for him on Election Night, but there was really not much of an emotional connection. I do remember staying up late with my mom until the race was called, and it was really late - had to be after midnight.
1980. I was now at UC Berkeley, and I remember getting into a heated dorm discussion a few weeks before the election on the topic of whether a vote for John Anderson was a wasted vote. As a loyal Democrat I was planning to vote for Carter, which made me unique among the group holding the discussion - they were either for Anderson, or for Reagan. I remember the night of the lone presidential debate being the night that I saw my first Bruce Springsteen concert, and I remember on Election Night joining a impromptu "protest" march against Ronald Reagan. And finally, I remember the next day, when my Comparative Politics professor, Dr. Leslie Lipson, delivered an eloquent, off-the-cuff lecture on why he felt a Reagan presidency was going to be a disaster.
1984. Another desultory Election Night, as the outcome had been clear since...oh, about April. I probably remember less about this night than any of the others.